California Republican Congressman Darrell Issa learned about the frustration of the government shutdown firsthand last week when a judge refused to give his 2-year-old “Fast and Furious” lawsuit an exemption from the freeze at the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ).
Issa is chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which is suing U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder for documents the congressman says will show who in the administration knew what and when in the gun running scandal.
Operation Fast and Furious, run by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), was an investigation into how guns were smuggled to drug cartels. The agency facilitated the operation by putting weapons in the hands of suspected smugglers and then watched cartel crime sites to see if they showed up. But once the illegal connection was proven, surveillance ceased and about 1,430 firearms remain missing.
Two of the weapons were found at the scene of the December 2010 murder of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry and Representative Issa hasn’t stopped talking about it since. Holder has turned over 7,600 documents to the committee, while withholding thousands more. President Obama blocked the release of some documents, claiming executive privilege, while his administration has argued that the political dispute between the executive and legislative branches does not belong in the courts.
Early last week, U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson, for the District of Columbia, rejected the DOJ’s request that the suit be dismissed, and then the government shut down. All across the country, federal employees were furloughed, parks closed, Head Start stopped for a lot of kids, Americorp employees weren’t paid, and services were curtailed. Although Fox News calls it a “slimdown” instead of a “shutdown,” its effects were felt everywhere.
Issa, a conservative leader of House Republicans, supports the shutdown, a fact that did not escape Judge Jackson in her ruling on whether Issa’s lawsuit deserved special treatment.
“There are no exigent circumstances in this case that would justify an order of the Court forcing furloughed attorneys to return to their desks. Moreover, while the vast majority of litigants who now must endure a delay in the progress of their matters do so due to circumstances beyond their control, that cannot be said of the House of Representatives, which has played a role in the shutdown that prompted the stay motion.”
The House steadfastly refused to negotiate a budget deal with Democrats in the House, Senate and White House as far back as April, with an announced intention to use a government shutdown and debt-ceiling crisis later in the year as leverage to win political concessions beyond the 10% across-the-board sequester cuts that were automatically triggered by the lack of an agreement. Now that the strategy is playing out, they insist both crises are the work of Democrats.
Issa, who is the wealthiest member of Congress, has used his chairmanship of the House Oversight Committee to pummel the administration for years over the U.S. Postal Service (he wants it privatized), Solyndra (he claims conspiracy and cronyism), the IRS (bogus claims of Tea Party antipathy) and, now, the closure of war memorials and monuments during the shutdown.
Republicans have been grandstanding around the country at parks and memorials, arguing that their closure is a cynical attempt by Democrats to blame the GOP for the shutdown by needlessly shuttering popular public venues. House Republicans have begun passing a series of bills to shelter individual agencies they like—there won’t be one for the IRS or the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) anytime soon—which go nowhere in the Senate.
Last week, Issa wrote (pdf) the National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis that his committee is “conducting oversight” of his agency’s “suspicious decisions.”